• Supposed self-justification: In the context of worship we have led ourselves to believe that we can be justified through our meritorious law-keeping of “the truth” in reference to a systematic performance of worship rules. Therefore, we have difficulty understanding the following statement: “For sin will not have dominion over you, for you are not under law, but under grace” (Rm 6:14). Those who have constructed a legal system of “true worship” will have difficulty understanding that in this statement Paul wanted to bring the Roman disciples back under grace, and out of their efforts to self-justify themselves through perfect law-keeping. The books of Romans and Galatians are dictionaries on this matter. These two letters were written in order to remind all of us that we are saved by grace, not by the perfect law-keeping of a five point outline on acts of worship. Therefore, our worship is inspired by grace, not by law. Maybe Romans 11:6 will help: “And if by grace [we are saved and worship], then it is no more by works [of law], otherwise grace is no more grace.” True worshipers worship God out of their heart response to the grace of God, not according to some legal system of law whereby they can affirm that they have meritoriously performed legally and correctly certain acts of worship between an opening and closing prayer.
An older disciple can sit quietly in a rocking chair, with a tear slowly flowing down from a closed eye, and be worshiping God in spirit and truth. A younger, more energetic person might be somewhat more animated and expressive with bodily movements in his or her worship. But the worship of both is true and from the heart, and we have no right to be “worship judges” in reference to either.
As one sits quietly in a chair at home during the pandemic restrictions of the Covid lockdown, he or she can be assured that his or her heartfelt worship is pleasing to God. We can be assured without all the presumed concert performances of a theatrical assembly and supposed ritualistic ceremonies that we have convinced ourselves constitute “true worship.” One of the great advantages of the Covid pandemic is that people of God around the world have been forced into isolated situations wherein they must take another look at the subject of what is considered true worship.
• Worship out of gratitude: Christians are motivated in true worship by their gratitude for the grace of God. This can take place both publicly and in the privacy of one’s own home. Worship is not defined by a public performance of a number of legal statutes that we have orchestrated from a series of proof texts on an outline. Worship is spontaneous from the heart. This is true worship that is motivated by the gospel. This is exactly what Paul meant when he urged the Romans to present their bodies as living sacrifices to God, which thing “is your reasonable service” (Rm 12:1). Some translations read, “spiritual worship.”
If we satisfy ourselves with our perfect keeping of some legal system of worship that we have formulated as a systematic theology of public worship, and which we refer to as “true worship,” then we have marginalized the motivating power of the grace of God. Paul said that we are not under such a system of law-keeping, which system we would assume to include our worship. On the contrary, we are under grace that generates worship from a heart that has responded to the gospel journey of the incarnate Son of God. We thus worship out of our gratitude for His love to make such a journey on our behalf.
Grateful hearts need no systematic set of rules to worship. They need no “place of worship.” Temples, churches houses and cathedrals are not necessary. This means that we do not need some ceremonial system of law that prescribes how we are to worship at some location.
Obedience to rules of law stimulates limited worship. We are motivated only in the fact that we have obeyed law. But response to the revelation of the Son of God moves us in worship beyond the calculated measures of keeping some legal acts of worship in some designated “place of worship.” In contrast to being subject to a legal system of worship laws, we are subject to the true fact of Jesus’ incarnational journey on our behalf. It is our understanding of this truth that causes thanksgiving in our hearts (See 2 Co 4:15). The more we understand the grace of God that was revealed through His Son, the more intense our worship becomes. If we would increase the sincerity of our worship, therefore, then we must “grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pt 3:18).
Again, one of the advantages of the Covid pandemic was that the lockdowns forced believers not to depend on the crutches of meeting houses in order to worship God. We were all forced into digging deep into our own hearts in order to worship God without all the surrounding stimuli that we thought was so necessary in order to generate worship. And the beautiful thing about it all is that we have learned that we can worship, even in the confines of our own closets.
• Meritorious law-keeping severs one from Christ: The Holy Spirit was serious about this matter. Through Paul He warned the Christians in Galatia, “You have been severed from Christ, you who seek to be justified by law. You have fallen from grace” (Gl 5:4). If one feels self-righteous because he has performed a certain system of acts in worship, then he has convinced himself that no grace is needed. After all, when one has satisfied himself with his legal performance of his legalized “true worship,” then he can feel confident in his supposed self-justification through the performance of a ceremony of worship acts. If one feels self-sanctified in his worship after the “closing prayer,” then he needs no sanctification from the cross.
We have found it most interesting that in our worship alone in the lockdowns of the Covid pandemic, the opening and closing prayers have all vanished away. We can now better understand what the Holy Spirit meant when He instructed that we “pray without ceasing” (1 Th 5:17). When we are not locked into an institutional performance of worship on Sunday morning, we now better understand that worship is a daily offering of our lives to the Father, with occasional moments throughout the day when we offer prayer to Him in reference to something in which we are immediately engaged.
We must translate our understanding of worship into the context of the theme of both Romans and Galatians. In order to be clear, what the Spirit said in the statement of Galatians 5:4 is that those of us who would seek to be justified by our laws of worship (“acts of worship”) have actually endangered our relationship with King Jesus because we have convinced ourselves that we no longer need His grace that was revealed through the cross. We have caused ourselves to have fallen from grace because we have convinced ourselves that it is possible to be justified before God on the basis of our meritorious obedience to “the truth” in reference to our orchestrated performances of worship. Therefore, if we would assume that “the truth” in reference to worship is some system of meritorious law, then we are in trouble. We have denied “the truth of the gospel” by relegating the gospel of the Son of God to a legal system of worship and behavior. But this is not the gospel (See 1 Co 15:1-4). This is another gospel (Gl 1:6-9).
We must not forget that whenever we discuss worship, we are talking about ourselves. Whenever we are establishing law, we are talking about ourselves in reference to our obedience to the law. But when we talk about gospel, we are talking about Jesus Christ. It is simply for this reason that “the truth” can never be a reference to a system of law. It is always in the New Testament stated to be, “the truth of the gospel.” The focus is on the truth of King Jesus, not on ourselves.
If we are honest with ourselves, then we know that we cannot keep any law perfectly in order to demand our salvation, or to certify our worship as true before God. Therefore, if “the truth” is a code of law, then we are doomed, for we would have to obey “the truth” perfectly in order to be saved. But we know that we cannot do this. We know this while we are sitting there in an assembly with our minds wandering here and there about the things of this world. We then realize that we have sinned according to our definition of “true worship.” Therefore, we need to take another look at what the New Testament states in reference to “the truth,” especially “the truth of the gospel.” If we do not, then we will as some in Galatia be teaching “another gospel,” and thus reap what the Holy Spirit declared in Galatians 1:9: “As we said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.”
[Next in series: Jan. 10]